In facing the question of Language Requirements during the next few weeks, the Faculty Council is forced to decide whether the University will descend to culturally-low standards of inferior schools, or if it will remain as one of the strong-holds of liberal arts education in the United States.
The immediate question confronting the President and his advisers is whether the present language requirements should be changed and there seems little doubt on the part of most of the members of the faculty that correction must be effected before the Class of 1939 faces the radically revised system at Harvard. The important question, then, is the nature of the changes which are to be made.
As an easy way to clear the field for discussion, it would be advisable immediately to eliminate the present requirement of an elementary knowledge. A one year course in a language cannot introduce the student into a new field of intellectual endeavor to any profitable extent, nor can it help his practical or cultural knowledge of the language and its literature. There is an almost unanimous concensus among those students who have been forced to take German A as a result of the present rules that they have wasted a year which could have been more profitably spent in the real studies of the University. It has been suggested that the elementary requirement has been the backbone of the secondary school teaching of German in the East and that it will immediately decline in favor of French if the rules are changed. But it seems a little absurd that the University should support such teaching if the students do not want it. It is the function of a University to formulate the definition of a properly educated man and the schools should conform to that rule.
On the other hand, it is inadvisable to restrict the language requirement to a reading knowledge of one language. That would, perhaps, be an improvement over the present system, but every college graduate, except possibly the concentrators in science, should have a useful reading knowledge of two languages. But there is doubtful logic in restricting that knowledge to a modern and an ancient language. Instead a plan whereby Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian, and Spanish would be placed on a parity and each student would be required to have a reading knowledge of any two of them appears wiser and more logical. A reading knowledge of one language can be obtained in any reputable secondary school, and that should be made a requirement for admission while the student could obtain his second language either in school or in college.
It is believed by some of the men in Science that the concentrator in that field, because of the amount of work he must do in his field in order securely to grasp his subject, should not be required to have a reading knowledge of more than one language. The differentiation is undoubtedly valid in some branches of Science and the logical solution is to require a useful reading knowledge of one language to be obtained in either school or college and allow the individual departments to waive the requirement of a second language if they so desire.
The objection has been raised by the higher officials of University Hall that this is to be a "national university" and that Harvard will have to lower its standards in order to cater to those schools which have not a staff complete enough to teach these languages. Those universities which have lowered their standards in order to get the customers have fallen steadily in the eyes of the academic world, while only Harvard has maintained its requirements and its prestige. And the Harvard roll of applicants has not diminished.
If Harvard is to become a national university it is for the purpose of spreading Harvard influence throughout the country, but it is the type of influence which it now has, rather than the influence it will gain from a change in standards. Harvard has no need to look to the tuition fees of its incoming classes, and so is in the position of being able to lead the secondary schools up to University standards and thus secure true national leadership.